How can Christians think their way is the only way? Part 2: Theological Considerations
As I pointed out in part 1 of this article, followers of Jesus don’t insist on “our” way, we insist on abiding by the truth. That truth is Jesus is the only way to God. There are many signs pointing to that truth, starting with Jesus saying, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” (John 14.6)
I wrote part 1 of the answer as a Christmas meditation that focused on the signs that point to the one way that God provided: Jesus. As a meditation, it did not go beyong that single focus, but, as I mentioned in that first article, now I want to move beyond that to examine theological and philosophical considerations. These considerations are questions that are not adequately answered by any other religion, making Christianity unique among all religious belief systems. Christianity alone has both the answers to, and makes sense of, the philosophical question of why Jesus is the only way and thus why Christians are correct to proclaim that.
Question Number 1: What to do about the Sin Problem?
Everyone knows there’s something wrong with the world. Bad things happen to good people. Evil people don’t always seem to be punished and often seem to flourish. If we were honest, we’d acknowledge that we ourselves have not always been pure and honest all our lives. We’ve had moral failings, whether it be lying, stealing, sinful sexual lust, misusing God’s name or refusing to put God first. If we were honest, we’d admit to ourselves that a number of the bad things we see in the world we can also find in ourselves. Where do such bad things come from? What is the root of the problem? The root is sin. Sin in us and sin in everyone else who occupies the world. The question is: What is the solution to sin?
How can we rid ourselves of sin so that we have a clean heart and stand not guilty of sin before a holy God? What can take away sin? The penalty for all sin is the same as the penalty for the first sin on earth: death. (Gen 2.17) What can take away such sin? Some (like Tibetan Buddhists) think that cycles of re-incarnation and attempts to rid yourself of bad Karma will purify and enlighten you and release you to live happily in the afterlife. But the Buddhists have no way of purging people of sin or purging the sin that is affecting the entire creation (Rom 8.21). This is to say nothing of the fact that there is no reason to believe we come back after death many different times. Logically, if we can’t remember a past life, how can we either be responsible for it or learn from it in order to do better next time? Scripturally, it’s clear that humans die once and then face judgment: (Heb 9.27). Ultimately the Buddhist system is empty. There is no way to be free of sin – either in yourself or in the world.
The Jews had an elaborate sacrificial system but such sacrifices were only a temporary reprieve “because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Heb 10:4). Even that system, elaborate as it was, does not provide a final solution to the problem of sin.
What is needed is a perfect sacrifice, a perfect human willing to pay the penalty of our sin. That penalty would be his own death. There is only one person qualified to fix the problem: Jesus, who never sinned (John 8.46) and who willingly died for us: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Pe 3.18) Christianity is unique in this regard. It is the only religion that offers a permanent solution to the problem of sin. But in order for that solution to be applied to you, you must accept Christ’s offer. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11.28-29)
Question 2: How is Eternal Life gained, and What Evidence do we have the leader can bestow it?
There is another glaring deficiency in every other religion. They have no proof that they can provide relief from death. Once you die, you stay dead. That is true for the founder (and followers) of every other religion except Christianity. Jesus died and rose from the dead. Before he died he told his disciples, “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14.19). In fact he promised to prepare a place for his followers to live with him forever. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14.2-3)
Islam may promise men an eternity with 72 virgins, and Mormons promise to make you a god but they have no evidence such claims are true. Christians have eyewitness accounts from those who saw the risen Christ after he died the agonizing death of crucifixion. For evidences of the resurrection of Jesus, see my article: “AD Apologetics – Part 2: Jesus’ Triumphant Resurrection“
Question 3: Evidence Based on the Nature of God
The ontological argument is a philosophical argument for the existence of God based on the concept of “God” and thus deals with the attributes of God. Originally attributed to Anselm, Alvin Plantinga has developed a particular form of the ontological argument which is very powerful. (I’d say very convincing also but, though logically sound, it’s only convincing if you understand and can follow the logic.) Here is the “Modal” or “Possible Worlds” formulation of the Ontological argument:
- It is possible for there to be a maximally great being
- A maximally great being has all perfections (fox example: All Powerful, All Knowing, Perfectly good). Those perfections would include necessarily existing.
- That real existence necessarily extends to all possible worlds.
- This is a possible world.
- Thus the maximally great being (called “God”) exists in this world.
For our purposes we’re interested in the second proposition: “A Maximally great being has all perfections.” Notice that one of the perfections of God, the maximally great being, is that he is all-knowing. The theological term is “omniscient.” That is to say he knows everything that has happened, is happening and will happen. This writer asserts that God also has “middle knowledge”- knowledge of what free will creatures would do (if given the chance) in any possible situation. (See for examples see: 1 Sam 23.11-12; Matt 11.21). One of the attributes of God is that he is outside of time (since he created it). Therefore, since he is also all-knowing, he knows everything that will happen. One consequence of God possessing perfect knowledge is that God knows exactly what will happen in the future. Since he knows what will happen, he can use that to prove that he possesses qualities that only God possesses. He can accurately and precisely predict the future.
Therefore the true God is able to reveal with precision, specific future events to prove that he alone is God. God – the God of the Bible – has done that many times. No other so-called God has done that with 100% accuracy and precision. (Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce, for example, wrote vague prophecies and have gotten things wrong, showing that their knowledge is not from the true God.) Here are two prophecies from the Bible that are so precise that God even names the people who will fulfill them. These are a type of prophecy that you don’t see from any other religion.
Two prophetic events, with actors specified by name
1. A prominent altar made permanently unusable by a particular king
As noted above, the Jews has an elaborate sacrificial system, so it, and things associated with it – like the temple and altar – were a prominent part of their religion and life. When God divided the Kingdom of Israel due to the sin of Solomon, son of King David (1 Ki 11.11-12), Jeroboam, son of Nebat, began reigning over the portion torn away from the house of David called the northern Kingdom. God had selected Jerusalem as the unique place for him to be worshipped (Deut 12.11, 1 Ki 9.3). That is where the Israelites were supposed to go to make their offerings. Jerusalem was in the southern Kingdom where Rehoboam, son of Solomon reigned. Jeroboam did not want his people going there to worship, fearing they may turn their allegiance to Rehoboam of the house of David. So Jeroboam built two alternatives to the temple in Jerusalem, one in Dan and one in Bethel. (1 Kings 12.26-30). Since this was in direct defiance and disobedience to how God had told the Israelites to worship, it was sinful. God responded by destroying the altar in Bethel.
God had one of his prophets prophecy that a King named Josiah would desecrate the altar at Bethel, making it unusable for worship. That prophecy was made during the reign of Jeroboam (circa. 931-910 BC). Many years later, when King Josiah ruled over the southern kingdom and was informed that the book of the law had been found (1 Kings 22.10-11), he realized they had not been following the Lord’s decree and zealously started to do so. In his zeal he destroyed the places where the Israelites were not supposed to worship, thus fulfilling the prophecy. That prophecy was fulfilled in 2 Kings 23.15-16. Josiah reigned from ca. 640-609 BC. The prophecy of the destruction of the altar, made some 300 years in advance, was fulfilled to the letter by the person who was identified by name in that prophecy.
2. The restoration of the temple allowed by a pagan king
Due to the continued disobedience of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah, God removed his people from the land and sent them into exile. The northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians c.722 BC. The southern kingdom fell to the Babylonians c. 586 BC, and the temple was destroyed. But Jeremiah the prophet had prophesied that the Israelites would be restored to the land. (Jer 33.10-11) He even specified the name of the king who would make the decree to allow and assist in the restoration: Cyrus, King of Persia. The prophet Isaiah made that prophecy (Is 44.28). Isaiah prophesied from 740 to 680 BC. We see the fulfillment in Ezra 1.1-4:
“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:
This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.'”
The first year of Cyrus was 539 BC. So the prophecy was made in excess of one hundred years in advance. Once again, this prophecy was fulfilled to the letter with Cyrus, a pagan king, doing exactly what the God of the Bible said he would do. He is not the only pagan king used by God and called by name. Nebuchadnezzar was another notable pagan king mentioned in scripture who performed God’s will. (Jer 27.6-7)
Can you image both the name of the king and the specific acts he did being accurately predicted hundreds of years in advance? We can’t even accurately predict the outcome of a presidential election even a few months or weeks in advance! But the God of the Bible, who sees all and knows all, confidently makes this claim:
I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.
(Isa 46:10 )
… and then proves it by doing precisely that – declaring the end from the beginning, including naming the name of the actors. None of the gods of the other religions dare to try to display such detailed foreknowledge.
So, whether we consider the question of who the true God is from a theological perspective or a philosophical perspective, the only God that can pass the test posed by the above disciplines is the God of the Bible. And it is he, the God of the Bible, who says:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
And like the prophets of old, Christians:
“…must say only what the LORD says’?” (Numbers 24:13)
Which is why Christians hold steadfastly to the tenet that Jesus is the only way to God.
1. “Mormons teach that God developed from man and that man can become god. God’s plan, they say, is for us to become gods like him, where, “we would become heavenly parents and have spirit children just as he does.”
“Latter-day Saints (Mornons)” by Donald S. Tingle in A Guide to Cults & New Religions, Ronald Enroth & Others, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1983 p.131
3. Gleason Archer, “Chronology” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol 1, Frank E. Gaebelein Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Regency(Zondervan):1979, p. 31
4.Edwin Yamauchi, “Ezra-Nehemiah in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol 4, Frank E. Gaebelein Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Regency(Zondervan):1988, p. 571
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